Posted by: Carlos Buxton | Feb 16, 2011

The essence of agility

I have been pondering this for a while now, what does agility boil down to at the core? Scrum is a great framework, but it is not implementable everywhere and changes to it are not very welcome. It is also nearly impossible to “turn on” the agile switch in mature organizations, as cultural changes need to be carefully implemented so they can take hold.

Is it possible to slowly work the company culture and move into agility? I think so, and I believe that a slow gradual approach to implementing such frameworks in mature (and larger) organizations is really the only way to go. I have seen and heard too many horror stories of companies reverting back to prior methodologies because they could not make scrum (or some other framework) work.

So, assuming that it is a good idea to make the change, then what are the basic tenets of agility that we have to slowly put in place to help it succeed for the long haul?

  1. Build inspect/adapt cycles within your project life cycle, many of them, any chance you get
  2. Work closely with your customer and constantly bring his voice to the project
  3. Clearly define the goals to be attained, so targets/expected results are clear, well understood and agreed upon
  4. Allow the freedom to fail – there is a huge difference between failure in traditional project settings versus failure in an agile setting. The former likely leads to project/effort failure overall, the latter could lead to insights that make the overall project/effort be more successful.
  5. March 3 Update  – I’ve had a nagging feeling that I was missing something in my post since I published it, and today it hit me! I’ve been taking for granted the role of team self governance in all this. It is the backbone of the culture of agility and the key ingredient to successful inspect/adapt cycles.
    (Phew! Now I feel much better)

All these are basic to agility, and necessary to implement agile frameworks, but not sufficient. In order to be truly successful you have to change the culture at the core. The more risk averse the original culture, the more work you are going to have to put in to bring about sustainable success.

Easier said than done, but a fantastic challenge to do it right…


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